July is eminently photographable. The reds, whites, and blues of patriotic clothing pop against lush green lawns. Bright fireworks light up dark night skies. Watery scenes are highlighted by neon bathing suits and flamingo pool floats. Even without filters, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are studies in light and color.
At the center of most of these photos are the people. A whole family of rainbow swimmers dripping with water. Clusters of kids sticky with purple popsicle sweat. A couple in matching sunglasses in front of a rolling gold landscape. And there’s me: in a colorful dress; but still postpartum, a bit too heavy, and struggling to defrizz my hair in the humidity.
A couple of years ago, I made a decision. I was posing for a random group photo with a half dozen others. As for any other iPhone shoot, we posed and smiled. And then, I noticed what happened.
Half the subjects flocked the photographer to see the pictures and weigh in on which was the best. I – and most of my friends – are approaching middle age, so this can take work: not only should eyes be open and smiles be appropriate, but double chins should be hidden, underarm flab smoothed, and bodies at an angle to minimize hip width. There was a quick but important chatter about which of the many versions were acceptable to all parties and permissioning for posting on social media.
Interestingly, the other half of the subjects (and, to be honest, mostly the men), simply walked away from the scene. It was as if nothing happened.
My instinct was to join in the evaluation. For years, I had been a participant in assessing the photos based on my vision of how I thought I looked best. This was an automatic response rather than a conscious one, conditioned by my society – and likely reinforced by pressures put upon my gender. I was supposed to care not only about what I looked like, but also about how that was represented. But in this thing, as in all things, I had a choice. Did I – not as a woman, but as Meredith – actually care about those things?
And so, I decided. From that moment forward, I would not evaluate photos of myself. I would simply let them be. I refused to expend intellectual or emotional energy editing the pictures and selecting the most favorable version of the truth. Whether each photo fit my own expectation of what “good” looked like for me really didn’t matter: the picture was represented what I did look like at that moment, whether I liked it or not.
It seems small and trivial. After all, it’s only my behavior in the moment after the flash. But, in this as in everything else, it’s freeing to realize that I get to decide how to be.
Since making that decision, I’ve felt free. I categorically don’t care. I consistently don’t need to engage. Now, when people take pictures of me, they often still ask: “Do you want to see it?” It feels like it’s really me answering when I say “no.” I’m sure it’s fine. Or not fine. It is how it is. And whether I like it or not, it is the truth of how I look in this moment. Then, I go back to my conversation.
This is your chance to choose as well. There is no right answer. You can care or not care. You can look or not look. You can edit or not edit. As long as you make a conscious choice aligned with your own values, it’s perfect.
How do you act when photos are taken?
What does that say about what you value? What does that say about what you fear?
And if you were to consciously choose, how do you want to be in those situations?
Like what you’re reading? Find more in my newest book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, available here from Amazon.
EXHIBIT A: Most recent mediocre picture of me, from Drag Queen Story Time yesterday (Note to self: Beyond this article, I will simply never look good enough standing next to a Drag Queen)